Snowy Owl (click to see the larger version)
A Snowy Owl was roosting on the end of the fishing pier early on the morning of December 21. This may be the same individual we saw on December 17 as both birds were heavily barred and had paler napes. The fishing pier is a popular location for Snowies when they are around – for this reason, you should always scan it in winter. Unfortunately the pier is also popular with humans while it’s ice free, a fact today’s Snowy found out when an unobservant jogger ran to the end of the pier and flushed it.
As exciting as the Snowy Owl were the 8 Long-tailed Ducks that flew in and landed on Lake Michigan off the end of the fishing pier. Seven of these Long-tailed were striking adult males in their gray and white winter garb. Long-tailed Ducks are regular at Montrose, but seeing a large group of adult males so close to shore is unusual, as well as unforgettable.
Another photo of the Snowy and 3 of the Long-tailed Ducks are at my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.
December 21, 2021
Snowy Owl and House Sparrow, December 17, 2021. (click to see the larger version)
Not unexpected but perhaps a bit tardy, the first of what will hopefully be many Snowy Owls made an appearance at Montrose on December 17. Snowies can show up almost anywhere. In the past we’ve seen them on the fishing pier, on the stardocks inside the harbor, on top of light poles, at the beach and Dunes, and on the light tower at the harbor mouth. As always, please be discreet when viewing and photographing these birds and give them plenty of space.
In the picture, note the photobombing House Sparrow, or is the Snowy photobombing the House Sparrow?
Sandhill Crane over Montrose Harbor, December 13, 2021. (click to see the larger version)
A Sandhill Crane flew over Montrose Harbor on December 13. This is unusual for a couple reasons. Sandhill Cranes are uncommon migrants at Montrose. Their fall migration is usually a few miles west of us, so we miss most of them (see the recent November 22, 2021 Sandhill Cranes post for insight into this). Possible reasons for this scarcity include the intimidating wall of high rises along Lake Shore Drive and the lack of thermal formation over Lake Michigan. Sandhills are thermal seeking and thermal dependent during migration. These rising columns of warm air make flying long distances easier for them. If you’ve ever watched a group of Sandhills in flight you’ve probably noticed them wheeling and gaining altitude, looking for and finding thermals. Sandhills are also highly social birds, so seeing a lone crane is atypical. The Montrose bird looked lost and out of place, like it took a wrong turn and got separated from its friends.
2021/2022 Winter Birding Tips
Winter is the slow season at Montrose. It’s just a fact of life. You could consider yourself lucky and doing well if you saw 20 species there in a morning. As such, there are some things to do and birds to look for.
- This is shaping up to be a good winter for Snowy Owls. Though none have been reported from Montrose yet, several have been seen just to the north and south along Lake Michigan. The best places to check for Snowies are the beach and Dunes and on the fishing pier, especially after it ices over.
- The fruiting trees are hosting numbers of robins and starlings. That’s probably all you will see but there’s always a chance a more unusual frugivore will show up, like a Townsend’s Solitaire or Varied Thrush.
- The open waters of Lake Michigan and the harbor are attracting large numbers of ducks, mainly Red-breasted Mergansers, but as long as the water remains open, an unusual duck, loon, or grebe is possible. Don’t forget to check the harbor mouth too.
- Several expected sparrows have been turning up in the Butterfly Garden, especially towards the north end in the hawthorns. Where groups of common birds gather, something unusual may find its way.
As always, don’t forget to check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for current sightings.